You Say Tomato …

Ripe for August harvest, from BLTs to bruschetta

“I’m sick of tomatoes,” the kid says. He’s staring at a dinner plate adorned with sliced tomatoes topped with basil leaves, bruschetta made with fresh tomatoes, broiled tomatoes with pecorino romano cheese, and a piece of steak, because man does not live by tomatoes alone, not even in August, when the floodgates finally open and those vines full of green orbs that have been teasing you and teasing you for months now begin to produce. And you breakfast on BLTs and lunch on grilled cheese and tomato and dine on whole wheat pasta with sauce made from fresh tomatoes and you’re starting to wonder about whether tomato sorbet is possible, but the kid is already sick of tomatoes and the tomato tornado has barely begun. [SIGNUP]

The kid’s being a pretty good sport about it, actually, not like that one year when he and Jordan, the little hellion who used to live across the street, stripped every last tomato, ripe and unripe, from your plants and used them for target practice in the alleyway. And the harvest doesn’t look to be as overwhelming as the year you sent him and his sister out to the front sidewalk with a big basket of gorgeous red fruits and a sign that said FREE TOMATOES. (“Free? Really? Free?” asked the first woman who drove by, and took a bagful dubiously.) Last summer was not so great; too wet and cold in the spring. But the year before that—“If you can’t grow tomatoes this summer,” we backyard farmers said to each other across fences, sweating in the hot sun, “you can’t grow anything.”

The kid’s too young to remember his grandfather’s tomato patch—in the front yard of his Doylestown home, because that’s where the sun was, even if the neighbors on his cul-de-sac thought it was wacky. He understands, though, that tomato worship is a religion you grow up in, replete with attendant sacraments (Hellman’s mayonnaise, blesséd salt!) and rituals (chill for one hour before serving; slice only with a serrated knife). He knows this because he grew up in it, too. And while he may be tired of tomatoes today, he’ll grow older, and there will be winters full of sickly pinky-square things passed off as tomatoes, and of those redder, more robust fruits still attached to their stems, as if to prove they’re really tomatoes, but that nonetheless are a mealy-mush mess. Like all acolytes, he’ll have to make up his own mind about what he believes in, and whether that first beefy slice is worth digging up the front yard for.

With luck, he’ll grow old enough to realize how few summers we’re allotted, just how swiftly they pass, and thus how vital it is to grow tomatoes, and eat them while they still hold the sun under their thin skins.